Yankees

Sweeny: Nova Or Phelps — Who Will Be The Yankees’ Fifth Starter?

Ivan Nova (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Ivan Nova (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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By Sweeny Murti
» More Columns

Who will take the fifth?

No, we’re not talking about Alex Rodriguez or Francisco Cervelli pleading the Fifth Amendment in the Biogenesis investigation.  This is about the fifth-starter spot in the Yankees’ rotation.

Ivan Nova and David Phelps are your leading candidates.  Nova has had more big league success. (Remember his 16 wins in 2011 and his Game 1 victory in the American League Division Series?)  But he fell off the cliff in the second half last season (7.05 ERA in his last 11 starts) and was left off the postseason roster.  Nova is in camp needing to earn his spot on the roster and in the rotation.

Phelps could actually be hurt by the fact that he was too good in more than one role.  Phelps held his own in both long relief and spot-starting duties. He wasn’t overpowering, but at times he showed a tremendous ability to get strikeouts when needed.  His versatility could serve the Yankees better in the bullpen than in the rotation.  However, Joe Girardi insisted that he will be looked at as a starter this spring because that’s where Phelps projects in the future, and the Yankees will adjust accordingly when it’s time to make roster decisions.

Phelps is a Notre Dame product.  And always at this time of year I can’t help but think of the last Notre Dame pitcher that broke camp as the Yankees’ fifth starter back in 2001.

Christian Parker was a 25-year-old right-hander. He began spring training as just another arm in camp and left it as the fifth starter for the three-time defending World Series champs.  What nobody knew was that Parker pitched through a sore shoulder in March to win the job.  He made his first major league start on Friday, April 6, a chilly 49 degree night at Yankee Stadium.  Parker gave up seven runs in three innings, went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury and didn’t pitch again for another two years.  He spent three minor league seasons on the comeback trail before calling it a career.  Parker’s three innings that cold April night were the only three innings he ever pitched in the major leagues.

Parker, and probably hundreds more like him, are why teams beg their players not to hide injuries in spring training, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem.  It’s better to sit out a short time and get it treated than ruin your career.

And then there’s Michael Pineda.   For those who have requested daily Twitter updates on his status, well, it’s pretty much the same as it has been for a while.  Yes, Pineda is here in spring training, but he is not expected to pitch in a major league exhibition game.  Still less than a year removed from shoulder surgery, Pineda is not being rushed, and if all goes well he could be available to the Yankees in the middle of this season.

There was some chatter last spring about Pineda’s conditioning — he rested a bit too much, it would seem, after his All-Star rookie season with Seattle and checked into Yankees camp at around 280 pounds.  He said on Thursday that he weighed in this time at around 260 pounds, and his shoulder feels good.

You will get reports of his progress from one bullpen session to the next.  But it’s best not to even think about Pineda until June.  And who does he replace in the rotation then?  Slow down, boys and girls — let’s deal with that when we get there.

Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter @YankeesWFAN.

Should Nova or Phelps get the nod? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…